“There’s a flag on the play!”
It’s a sentence in football that can bring cheers of joy or expletives aplenty depending on your point of view. But, for Baltimore Ravens fans and players it seems that the zebras aren’t the most popular people in town these days.
Coming off of two close losses in the span of seven days can make people a little irritable. Especially when your team’s expectations have changed drastically in the last five weeks and you had a legitimate chance to be 4-0. So there are people looking for answers and naturally there are many directions you can take your frustrations, a rookie coach, the play calling, the lack of production by the offense or the most popular the officials.
Since the Ravens became contenders they have been defined by their aggressive defense and brash attitude. With that aggression you have the potential to bit overzealous at times, since 2001 the Ravens have been penalized in the triple digits almost every year. Is this a result of undisciplined play or of being unfairly targeted by the referees?
One of the main knocks on Brian Billick’s tenure as coach was that “the inmates ran the asylum”. There was little accountability and veterans seemed to get favorable treatment. False starts and Delay of Game penalties were fairly common throughout the years as well as the dreaded unsportsmanlike conduct. Anyone who watched the Ravens last season on National TV manhandle the Patriots didn’t remember how incredible the team played but rather how far Bart Scott threw the little yellow flag into the stands on his way to being ejected.
The hope was that things would change with a new regime. The season is still young and the jury is still deliberating but, Jarret Johnson’s penalty in the Pittsburgh game didn’t help matters nor did 11 other penalties help the cause against the Titans. It could be one of the main reasons that separate why this team is .500 instead of undefeated. So far, Coach Harbaugh has been publicly diplomatic and fans have only seen one instance (Johnson’s penalty) when he admonished poor play. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t do it but you would have never seen that with Brian Billick at the helm. It begs the question of accountability.
Terrell Suggs recently stated in an interview , “We are the bad boys of football. They (officials)are always going to look at us like that. They are always going to have a close eye on us.” So is the perception that the Ravens are targeted truly the reality? During a game against the Lions a few years back when the Baltimore was flagged for 21 penalties, Suggs was ejected by official Mike Carey. His explanation was that he had “malice in his heart”. Apparently Carey is really in touch with the feelings of others.
During the game last Sunday, Albert Haynesworth slammed Joe Flacco to the turf after the whistle blew for a false start penalty. The same type of play that Suggs was found guilty of head contact with Kerry Collins received a 15 yard penalty and impacted the game, only Suggs touched his shoulder pad.
I know the conspiracy theorists will have you think all kinds of reasons why the officials throw the flag on the purple and black but here’s my opinion.
You have an aggressive team that at times does things to intimidate the opposition. I have seen plenty of games where the penalties they received were warranted. This season in 4 games they have been flagged 33 times and their opponents have been flagged 29, so there isn’t much discrepancy. But what concerns me more is that it becomes an excuse and many players are once again blaming their failures on someone else. The call on Suggs Sunday was a bad call. It was a call that could have sealed the game if it wasn’t called. But, they had other chances to get stops. They had other chances to make plays. They didn’t get to a very immobile Kerry Collins ONE time.
That being said there has been a lot discussed recently about the NFL officials as a whole and if your name is Ed Hoculi. There is an overall perception that the officials aren’t doing a good job but to me that’s an issue that needs to be addressed by Roger Goodell. Players need to look at themselves because once you start pointing the blame elsewhere it often doesn’t stop there.